"Danger to Children"

Why did Kelly Blake douse her kids with gas and set them on fire? She's seriously mentally ill -- and she was deserted by the system charged with protecting her and her family.

Blake herself grew up in a middle-class Phoenix home. She had an older brother, John. Blake's parents split up when she was small, and her mother, Sandra, remarried when Kelly was about 5, to a man named Reed Juett. That couple had one child together, Michael, before they got divorced in 1990.

Kelly Blake attended Alhambra High School, where, she concedes, she was a wild child before dropping out in 1980. Friends say she became a born-again Christian in her late teens, around the time she and John Fausto Sr. met and became serious.

They were a mercurial pair, an on-again, off-again couple. Their union produced Johnny in 1984, then Ray, and, finally, Venessa.

John Fausto Jr., left, sat with his grandmother, Josephine Fausto, his father, John Sr., and other family members at funeral services for his siblings.
John Fausto Jr., left, sat with his grandmother, Josephine Fausto, his father, John Sr., and other family members at funeral services for his siblings.
Blake, left; Raymond, next to her; and Venessa, across from her mother; at a Phoenix restaurant shortly before the fire.
Blake, left; Raymond, next to her; and Venessa, across from her mother; at a Phoenix restaurant shortly before the fire.

Blake and Fausto were always short of money. She started a one-woman house-cleaning business, but her three small children were her priority.

In the late 1980s, Blake embraced the teachings of a small Christian congregation based in west Phoenix. The church's leaders urge parents to curb their children's contact with "evil" influences -- television, popular music, even other children. Blake dropped off the welfare rosters, and eschewed government health insurance for her children.

(Attorneys for ComCare and Dr. Sbilris suggested in recent court pleadings that "the Ambassador Church may have caused and/or contributed to Kelly Blake's attempt to take her own life and/or the lives of her children.")

Blake left John Fausto in mid-1990, and lived for a time with a fellow church member. Fausto's widowed mother, Josephine, then allowed Blake and the kids to move into her home on Clarendon with her.

Blake has a history of depression in her family, and by early 1991, her own mental state was deteriorating. That March, she told her mother, who then lived in the Valley, that she planned to kill herself. Her mother convinced her to check herself into the county hospital.

"I didn't see any light, nothing. I was very, very confused. I wanted a lot for my kids, you know. I was saying ... 'I just can't do it no more.'"

-- Kelly Blake, in an August 1998 interview with police

When Blake checked into Maricopa Medical Center on March 26, 1991, she told a nurse she was scaring herself.

"I've seen some demonic things when I go to sleep," the nurse quoted Blake as saying. "People in dark robes. I hear things -- not voices, but sirens -- the ice cream truck and the wind. Yet when I look out, there is no wind.... I get these weird scary thoughts of hurting my children. Real bad stuff."

But Blake asked to be released after four days on the psych ward.

"I feel worse than when I came in," she told a social worker. "My kids really need me to be at home with them.... You can't keep me, right?"

They didn't.

"Explained to patient that she needs to stay longer for own good, but patient refuses," the social worker reported.

The hospital released Blake on April 2, after diagnosing her with a mental illness called "schizoaffective-bipolar type."

A medical journal defines schizoaffective disorder as an illness "in which there are both severe mood swings (mania and/or depression), and some of the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia."

The journal calls the disorder "a lifelong illness for most people.... Most people have a flare-up of symptoms periodically in times of stress. They may be severe enough to limit functioning and may make hospitalization necessary."

Treatment for the illness, the journal says, usually is a combination of therapy, medicine and skills training.

"Recovering from schizoaffective disorder is an extremely lonely experience," Dr. Phillip Long wrote in a separate article, "and these patients require all the support that their families, friends and communities can provide. [It] appears to be a combination of a thought disorder, mood disorder, and anxiety disorder."

Long said schizoaffective patients should maintain a lifelong regimen of antipsychotic, antidepressant and antianxiety medications. But he noted that few afflicted patients keep up with their medications on their own.

The doctor warned, "Untreated schizoaffective disorder will often leave a patient friendless, penniless, and homeless. Thus, circumstances often force schizophrenic patients to rely heavily on their family or psychiatric group homes. There is frequently an inverse relationship between the stability of their living situation and the amount of antipsychotic drugs they require."

The stability of Kelly Blake's "living situation" was tenuous at best.

The day she left the county hospital in April 1991, Blake reported to an outpatient clinic run by the East Valley Behavioral Health Association.

"Client agreed to continue to take meds," a caseworker wrote that day. "Client will be discharged to her mother-in-law's home, where she and her three children can be monitored -- supported."

Blake reported to the clinic every other week for three months, but seemed to regress. In May 1991, a nurse wrote that Blake felt "detached from everything, including her children."

Still, East Valley Behavioral closed Blake's file that July, after advising her to continue treatment with another agency.

Instead, Blake decided to try to go it alone.

"I'm still searching for answers in my mind. What if I do this or what if I do that? Trying to figure a way to make it work, then I think of something else. Wavering. Trying to make it work in my mind. The first thing I need to do is get something for my nerves. I am panicking. I need to lighten up."

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